A’ Ibom 2023: Uncertainty looms as traditional pattern of polling in governorship election, others likely to change

An election is critical to democratic progress as it creates the opportunity to advance democratization, encourage political liberalization, and promote rule of law and sustainable development.

But unfortunately in Nigeria as in similar climes the world over, elections have been corrupted and subjected to dire manipulations by a privileged few thus impacting the caliber of leaders produced, as against the choice of the people.

This broken political arrangement has created and nurtured a monster christened ‘Godfatherism’ aside from other misnomers. Incumbent governors and high-profile party stakeholders have wielded it substantially to manipulate and share positions-elective and appointive in the State.

Against this backdrop of political usurpation, Akwa Ibom as in other States in the country has seemingly acquired the toga of a one-party State. This tendency has conditioned politicians and auxiliaries in the State to meal through the condensed path in PDP to access power. However, this is the nemesis that has backfired on the ruling party and has now disrupted the political dynamics in the State overlooking 2023.

This delusion for instance by the ruling party noising that Akwa Ibom is a PDP State having remained under the party’s grip since the inception of democratic rule in 1999 is out of touch with reality as their political base has been impacted in a negative way being a fall out of the ill-fated primaries. Unrepentant supporters and jobbers may disagree though, referencing perhaps the 2014 episode where the stunt by the then 22 aggrieved governorship aspirants failed to stop the candidacy of Udom Emmanuel. But time and political expediency has changed and on top of these, unlike in the 2014 saga where the 22 and their support base remained, high-profile stakeholders, this time around have jumped ship along with substantial support bases. Notwithstanding, this is the naked reality at the moment for the ruling party in the State

It is instructive to note that the people’s perception and new orientation about the PDP or any other party in the State have changed in recent times as voters now put a premium on personality, not a party. Therefore ignoring this red flag is at the peril of political stakeholders justling to control government post-2023.

I am pleased objectively about the political scenario in Akwa Ibom at the moment because for once the State would be better for it, not individuals that are privileged to access public offices, rightly or wrongly.

The period of beatitudes, good words, and related vernaculars from public office-seeking politicians who sweet tongue electorates into harvesting their votes is over, at least substantially. This pastime by politicians in the PDP for instance, is indeed a broken record as previous promises made were broken and even patch actions have not translated to improving the living condition of Akwa Ibom people.

And backtracking in order to reset the conversation, the attitude of our current crop of politicians to delivering democratic dividends to the people is oxymoronic because in their youthful days they accessed quality education from primary to tertiary schools spiced with bursaries, grants, and scholarships of multiple shades. On health, they were beneficiaries of good healthcare facilities and services. In addition, there were gainful employment opportunities in the government and the private sector.

All these basics are rights and what the people need but unfortunately, politicians decline preferring instead to embezzle and deploy looted funds to suffocate dissent.

Political activities in the country are gathering momentum following the lifting of the ban on political activities by INEC. However, the actions and messagings of politicians paint a bleak picture of what Nigerians should expect in the 2023 general elections. Political observers say is not unconnected with the provision of the new electoral act as amended.

We have witnessed in recent times elevated politically induced violence stoked substantially, directly or indirectly, by chief executives of sub-national governments across the country in their effort to position stooges to succeed them in 2023.

In Akwa Ibom plethora of reports abound of mild to harsh altercations among supporters of political parties, particularly those fielding candidates for the governorship slot.

Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi for instance banned all forms of political rallies in all primary and secondary schools in the state from November 1, 2022, with the caveat that only approvals from the Commissioner of Education would validate political rallies to hold in these exclusive venues in the State.

Again, the leader of the proscribed National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Oyo State Mr Mukaila Lamidi (aka Auxilliary) has been charged for allegedly vandalizing campaign billboards of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and some other All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates in the State.

According to the charge sheet, Auxilliary is being arraigned on a six-count charge bothering on the willful destruction of billboards of APC candidates in the Igbo-Ora and Ido areas of Ibadan.

Already, there is so much trust deficit in our political ethos such that what we need now is a crop of politicians that are sincere and trustworthy in words and deeds like in the mold of the former Cross River State Governor, late Dr. Clement Isong whose political footprint performance-wise is unarguably bigger than those of his contemporaries on both sides of the aisle.

What should stand out for me in the choice of candidates in 2023 is not so much capacity as brandished by all the candidates contesting for the governorship or other political offices but character. What is the level of sincerity and commitment of the individual public office holder?

The tsunami and vicariously of information globally in this 21st century driven by technology-ICT has impacted the capacity of the managers of individual country’s commonwealth such that it is relatively not the issue of lacking capacity but character and will-power to do the right thing notwithstanding the prevailing moment.

The three frontline parties in the State that have filled the governorship slot, save one, are unstable at the moment. The PDP and APC are fraught with multiple unreconcilable differences aside from litigations in courts. Apparently, the tide at the moment is not shifting in favour of either of the two parties.

In PDP, the court judgment earlier reserved for November though now ruled in Umo Eno’s favour has impacted his campaigns and other tailored communications of his campaign team to drive his governorship ambition. It is not yet Uhuru as Akan Okon has rejected the ruling describing it as ‘a miscarriage of justice,’ stating that “both oral and documentary evidence abounds that the certificates were forged”.

His legal team believes the ruling was “done in error, consequently, they are set to test the veracity of the case at the Appeal Court.”

The ongoing APC court debacle is unclear for the time being where the direction is heading. Already, INEC is yet to recognize the party as having a candidate for the governorship slot in Akwa Ibom.

And furtherance to this is the Senate tussle in Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District where the former Governor Godswill Akpabio is locked in a legal battle with retired police boss Udom Ekpoudom. A recent judgment at the Appeal Court Abuja Division has granted leave to Senator Akpabio as an interested party to appeal the judgment of the court which ordered INEC to replace his name with retired DIG Udom Ekpoudom as the duly elected candidate of the All Progressives Congress for Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.

The Young Progressives Party, YPP, formerly unpopular in Akwa Ibom is seemingly the beautiful bride for political stakeholders in the State since the entrance of its governorship candidate, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan who was once a stakeholder and governorship aspirant in the PDP.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured potential voters in the country that the 2023 polls will be free, credible, and reflective of their expectations.

“The 2023 elections will be more credible, fair and will be conclusive, that we assure Nigerians,” INEC’s National Commissioner in Charge of Planning, Monitoring and Strategic Planning Committee (PMSC), Prof Rhoda Gumus said.

According to her, all measures for free, fair, and credible elections in 2023 were being put in place by the commission, part of which is training to strengthen the capacity of all cadres of INEC staff.

“I am speaking on behalf of the Commission that as we have seen in Osun and Ekiti elections, the 2023 elections will be transparent enough and votes will count and that will further build confidence in the system.

Also, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission Professor Mahmood Yakubu has commended INEC’s sustained incremental improvement in the conduct of elections, especially with regard to the reforms instituted by the new Electoral Act, 2022 as amended.

Recently at the National Stakeholders Forum on the 2023 general elections organized by the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, he said that the Commission will not go back on its decision to upload the results of the elections on its portal. This he said will enable Nigerians to have a real-time view of the results as they are being collated.

Yakubu maintained that the enhanced technology coupled with the amended electoral law has made it impossible for anybody, including staff of the commission, to manipulate the process.

The deployment of BVAS machines and instant announcement of results at the polling units, and transmission of same to the INEC server has made manipulation of results difficult.

While the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines do not totally eliminate chances of double registration, it significantly reduces those chances, as biometric screening and verification are supported by facial recognition.

Yakubu also warned the newly sworn-in 19 new Resident Electoral Commissioners against visiting government houses or holding an unofficial meetings with politicians admonishing them to be transparent and non-partisan while remaining firm and courageous.

The former Akwa Ibom State Residential Electoral Commissioner for INEC, Mike Igini recently warned politicians against engaging in electoral malpractices saying “I see people losing so much money in 2023 elections on account of what is contained in the 2022 Electoral Act and procedures of INEC”.

He attributed the spike in vote buying to the radical improvement in the electoral process, unlike the era when results were written stressing that daring politicians will be shocked.

He hinted that in recognition of this grave concern, INEC is already making arrangements to engage the services of undercover agents to monitor vote buying.

Indeed, this would perhaps be the first time Akwa Ibomites will have real options, not playbook arrangement, to exercise their right to choose at the poll. I see public opinion this time around staying with the candidate whom the people trust based on antecedent as well as how his programmes would address their peculiar needs.

The electorates and their families who influence their choices are now in a better stead courtesy of the new electoral act, to interrogate candidates seeking public offices and are on elevated ground this time around to vote right based on informed conviction about individual candidates.

In addition, the new electoral act as amended gives ample leverage to the individual voters to authenticate the impact of their vote. The outlined for instance in Clause 13(32) of INEC Regulations and Guidelines allows voters to remain in the vicinity of the Polling Unit after voting.

Other sections and subs in the INEC regulations and guidelines for the conduct of the 2023 general elections as pertaineth to the individual voter are:
19 (d) The APO I shall:
(i) Call up the Voter’s data on the BVAS by reading the bar code on the back
of the PVC or reading the QR code against the name of the voter in the
Register of Voters or entering the last six digits of the Voter Identification
Number (VIN) of the voter into the BVAS or searching the BVAS with the
a surname of the voter;
(ii) On the appearance of the voter’s data on the BVAS the APO I shall ascertain
that the photograph on the PVC is that of the voter and that the Polling Unit
details correspond with those of the Polling Unit;
(iii) Request the Voter to place his/her thumb or any other finger (where
possible) in the place provided on the BVAS for authentication or, if this
fails, match the face of the voter to the picture in the BVAS using the
device’s facial recognition facility; and
(iv) if the fingerprint or face of the voter matches, request the voter to proceed
to APO II.
19 (e) The verified voter shall then proceed to the APO II who shall:
(i) Request for the Voter’s PVC;
(ii) Check the Register of Voters to confirm that the voter’s name, details,
and Voter Identification Numbers (VIN) are contained in the Register of
Voters; et cetera
(ii) On being satisfied that the person before him/her has been duly
accredited, (iii) Request the voter to remove any cell phone or photographic device in
his/her possession before proceeding to voting cubicle; et cetera

20. Where a voter cannot be identified by the BVAS for the Polling Unit using the methods outlined in Clause 19 (d) of INEC Regulations and Guidelines or where the voter’s fingerprint or face cannot be matched with the details in the BVAS after three trials, the voter shall not be allowed to vote. In that case, INEC officials in the polling unit shall:
(i) Advise the voter to use appropriate channels to notify the Commission
of his/her failure to accredit;
(ii) Politely request the voter to leave the Polling Unit; and
(iii) Tick the appropriate box against the voter’s name labeled FA (denoting
“Failed Accreditation”)

22. Any person who presents the PVC of another person with an intention to use it to vote, shall not be allowed to vote and may be liable to arrest and prosecution.

23. (a) In the event of sustained malfunction of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), the Presiding Officer (PO) shall:
(i) Immediately inform the LGA and RA Supervisors, the Supervisory
Presiding Officer (SPO), the Electoral Officer (EO), and the Election
Monitoring and Support Centre (EMSC) for replacement.
(ii) Suspend Accreditation and Voting until a new BVAS is made available.
(iii) File a report of the incident to the designated Official.
(iv) Inform the voters and polling agents of the situation.
(b) Where a replacement BVAS is not available by 2:30 pm, the Presiding Officer shall:
(i) Inform the LGA and RA Supervisors, SPO, EO, and EMSC of the situation.
(ii) File a report of the incident.
(iii) Inform the voters and polling agents that accreditation and voting for
the affected Polling Unit shall continue the following day.
(c) Where a BVAS is replaced in the middle of an election, the data of verified voters in the faulty BVAS shall be merged with data in the replacement BVAS for purposes of determining the number of verified voters.

26. A voter shall not make any mark on the ballot paper by which he/she may be identified. If he/she does so, such ballot paper shall be rejected provided that any print resulting from the staining of the fingerprint of the voter in the voting compartment shall not be deemed to be a mark of identification.

28. If a person presents himself/herself to vote and the Presiding Officer is informed that there is reasonable ground to believe that the person is underage, a nonNigerian or impersonating, the Presiding Officer shall:

(i) Request the person giving the information to complete the prescribed
form undertaking to substantiate the charge in a Court of Law.
(ii) Ask the person against whom the protest is made if he/she is
impersonating or underage. If the person owns up, the Presiding
Officer shall not allow him/her to vote and may request the Security
Official on duty at the Polling Unit to arrest the person.
(iii) Where the person denies the charge to the satisfaction of the
Presiding Officer, allow the person to vote.

30. Telephones and other electronic devices capable of taking pictures are not allowed in voting cubicles. Voters may come to the Polling Unit with telephones and other electronic devices provided that they do not take them to the voting cubicles or take pictures of other voters while they are voting.

32. Presiding Officers shall place the ballot boxes not more than two meters away from the voting cubicle, in the direction of the Presiding Officers, and away from the Polling Agents.

33. After casting his/her ballot, the voter is free to remain within the vicinity of the Polling Unit to witness the sorting and counting of votes and the announcement of results, provided he/she is orderly.

The three latest off-cycle elections in Ekiti, Osun(2018 & 2022) are a template to gauge the prospective outcome of the 2023 general elections. There has been a serial improvement in the conduct of elections by INEC so far.

The Transition Monitoring Group, TMG in a statement with the subject ‘Post Election Statement on the Gubernatorial Election in Osun State, July 2022 commended the performance and improvement by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in the conduct of the Osun governorship election.

However, vote-buying has been an issue on the integrity of the recent off-cycle elections in the country as voters are heavily induced by agents of political parties at the polling booths to skew the outcome of the polls in favour of the highest spender.

Politicians and political parties, having lost some ground for manipulation as a result of the new electoral provisions, have perfected the act of weaponizing poverty for their pecuniary political interests. Voters, who have been economically impoverished for years are made to sell their votes to politicians.

While this trend of vote buying has been in existence for some years, it is now being seen as a ‘saving grace’ for desperate politicians, as a result of more stringent provisions in the electoral law.

The EFCC has been reported to have arrested some suspects, including party agents, for allegedly engaging in vote-buying during the June 18 governorship election in Ekiti.

Some of them were also said to have been caught with bags of money with a book containing details of voters of certain voting areas at a private residence.

Obviously, these efforts by INEC enhanced by the new electoral act as amended would leave limited room for desperate politicians to unduly and unethically influence the results of the election as it was the norm previously.

However, one of such rooms left for desperate politicians aside from vote buying is the perpetration of violence where they are losing so that the result of such polling units will be canceled, and thus reduce the chances of the opponents. Unfortunately, one would only know if one is losing after the announcement of results, which is immediately transmitted in real-time to the INEC server. This trajectory technically diminishes the prospect of violence in the elections in 2023.

The Osun State governorship election has shown the positives and potential if all stakeholders commit themselves to implement the electoral reform and effect serious changes in the electoral system.

One takeaway I will want Akwa Ibomites especially eligible persons with voters card to learn from the recent Osun election is the growing consciousness of the citizens of the value of elections and the need to believe in the current electoral process by actually coming out to vote on election day. And in addition, monitor their votes leveraging on the provisions of the new electoral act as amended because their votes will count. Akwa Ibom edakka eda.

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